Chest pain

What is chest pain?

Pain in the chest is a pain in the front part of the chest, located between the neck and the upper part of the abdomen, which can be a symptom of various cardiac, respiratory, infectious, nervous pathologies, and osteoarticular or muscular injuries. Sometimes, chest pain may spread to the neck, abdomen or back.

It is a very common pain and may cause different intensities depending on its cause or origin.

Prognosis of the disease

Chest pain may be due, in severe cases, to serious and urgent medical conditions as heart attack or heart failure, which are life threatening conditions.

Despite the feeling of strong chest pain, most of the time the causes are not dangerous. But since there are many possible causes of chest pain, it is essential to visit a cardiologist or pulmonologist quickly, to receive immediate treatment if necessary.

Symptoms of chest pain

The most common symptoms of chest pain are a stabbing pain and compressed feeling, although they usually vary depending on the affected organs or tissues:

  • coronary thoracic pain: when the causes are related to the heart, the pain usually involves a feeling of heaviness, and spreads to the left arm and neck. This type of pain can cause as well other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, sweating and shortness of breath.
  • pleuropulmonary chest pain: chest pain caused by lung or respiratory problems is located towards the sides of the chest and intensifies when breathing or coughing.
  • pericarditic chest pain: a stabbing pain and oppressive feeling, in the center of the chest, that increases while breathing.
  • gastrointestinal or esophageal chest pain: this type of chest pain is usually caused by a hiatus hernia or esophageal problems, and is a sharp pain in the area of ​​the sternum, which can reach the throat.
  • osteomuscular thoracic pain : a pain caused by injuries, fractures or muscular tears located in the affected area and increases with the movement of the torso.
  • neuritic chest pain: this pain is often caused by the varicella zoster virus and causes a burning pain, usually affects one side of the chest.
  • chest pain of nervous or psychological origin: characterised by a sharp pain, like pins in the center of the chest.

Medical tests for chest pain

Due to the multiple causes that can cause chest pain, it is sometimes a challenge for the specialist to establish a diagnosis. For this reason, the clinical history of the patient will be essential, to be able to understand their symptoms, previous illnesses and family medical records.

Once the patient's medical history is analysed, and if there is no clear traumatic cause, a chest x-ray and an electrocardiogram will be required to rule out other serious diseases which could lead to risks such as a heart attack.

Depending on the results of these tests, more investigations may be required, such as a coronary CT scan, pulmonary scintigraphy, a Holter monitor or digestive study.

What are the causes of chest pain?

There are multiple causes of chest pain, depending on the organs affected:

Can chest pain be prevented?

Chest pain can be prevented if the underlying cause is treated. This is why a visit to a medical specialist is important – making the correct diagnosis of the problem is the first step to effective treatment and future prevention.

Treatments for chest pain

Treatment for chest pain depends on the original cause:

  • In the case of angina, vasodilators may be prescribed, or an angioplasty may be performed to widen the blood vessels
  • Pneumonia is generally treated with antibiotics
  • Digestive problems can sometimes be treated with antiacids
  • Some cardiovascular issues may require more invasive surgery

What specialist treats chest pain?

As chest pain is susceptible to several causes, the treatment of chest pain may be handled by a number of specialists, such as a cardiologist, pulmonologist, gastroenterologist or psychologist.

At first, when the onset of symptoms that cause pain are unknown, it is best to visit your GP, who will study your medical history and symptoms then refer you to the right specialist to treat your particular case.